First, it should be noted I have signed non-disclosure agreements at many offices in New York City as occasionally I am privy to sensitive financial information not intended for public knowledge. I always joke with the compliance departments (some of whom laugh and others who seem to have lost their sense of humour the minute they donned their first blazers) at these financial institutions that as a twenty-five year old actor who has never had any wealth whatsoever to “manage,”
I wouldn’t even know what to DO with the kinds of stock or bank information I MIGHT happen to see or hear about other than to do my best Gordon Gekko impersonation and slimily say, “Greed…is good.” I didn’t know how to manage and sell my TY Beanie Baby collection at the “prime market time,” so I’d say that’s a good indicator I probably also wouldn’t know how to buy or sell stocks at the right time either. All this is to say I am trusted to maintain some sense of security and professionalism in all the financial institutions in which I so often do temporary work.
As a receptionist, you are the gatekeeper (“Are you the Keymaster?”) to the company both physically and telephonically, and you have the power to grant or decline entry to people’s offices and phone lines. I am so accustomed to answering phones and greeting guests at so many offices around the city, I’m unfazed by pretty much everything a guest or caller could throw my way, and I know all the tricks people use to try to get you to give them access to people within a company so they can harass them with sales calls, money schemes, etc. The fact is, unless you can give me a specific first and last name of someone within a company, legally, I cannot and will not put your call through.
(I am Dana Barrett possessed by Zeul and will slam the door in your Peter Venkman face, so to speak)
So naturally, when a young woman called the office where I am working for the next two and a half weeks and asked to speak to someone about handling her money a few days ago, I told her just that: “I’m sorry, but unless you have the name of someone in the company, I cannot put your call through. That is company policy.” What I did NOT expect was her to launch into a perplexing and semi-unsettling confessional of her life situation for the next ten minutes that:
- a) Intrigued me
- b) Sort of terrified me
- c) Made me question the validity of her claims/sanity
- d) Led me to look her up on Facebook/Google
Her first words after I said my spiel were, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who I am.”
So I did what any person in this situation would do which is stay silent and pray I wasn’t talking to a Moriarty or a John Doe-from-Se7en or something.
She continued, “I am about to get a LOT of money from several medical malpractice suits in St. Louis,” (SHE IS ALSO FROM MISSOURI!!!! WTF!!!) “and I don’t even know what to do with it. I don’t want it all, just enough to give some away and take some trips and live my life and get away from all these crazy people.”
My inner monologue: Um, okay…
“I’m just kind of really overwhelmed right now, and I think my parents are hiding information from me. They won’t tell me anything, and every time I try to ask questions, they put me in a hospital and hold pillows down over my face. They keep admitting me to mental institutions to force me to have electroshock therapy, and this one nurse actually beat me with this leather strap. Like, with serious intent to harm. I’m not crazy. I have a really high IQ.”
Just like Sherlock? A high-functioning sociopath?
“I don’t even think they’re my parents, like I don’t belong to them. My family has forced me to be on my own. I don’t really have anyone to go to, and I really need financial advice, but I can’t ask my parents because they keep sending me to hospitals to have electroshock or make me take pills. I’m not crazy. I just have a really high IQ. And I’m young, so I don’t know how to handle all these millions of dollars I’m about to get in settlements. My lawyers, which are some of the best settlement lawyers in St. Louis have been investigating and trying to get answers from my parents, but I just don’t really know who I am, and I’m alone. I am investigating everything and trying to get names, but it’s such a slow process. I need help, and I don’t know where to go.”
I seized the minuscule pause in her oration to try to regain control and courteously end the conversation.
“Well, unfortunately, I’m just not allowed to connect you to anyone within the company without proper identification. If you can do some more investigating with your lawyers and call back with a name, we’re very happy to be of help to you. Good luck with everythi-”
She cut me off, “I’m sorry to cut you off, and I know you are trying to help, but I just want to explain that my parents are hiding things from me and making it difficult for me to get the information I need. But I’m going to get millions of dollars, and I’m just so lost and overwhelmed and I need help. I married into a crazy, weird family, and they all think I’m crazy and keep trying to hurt me to keep me quiet. And my town is the same way; it’s small and weird and there’s all these secrets and lies, and it’s like everyone is against me. I’m not crazy. I have a really high IQ. All I want is someone to help me manage the money I’m getting because I don’t know who I am and how to do anything. I really don’t want it all, just enough to give some away and take some trips and live my life and get away from all these crazy people. I’m doing investigations and trying to get names, but it’s such a long process. And my parents have forced me into hospitals where the nurses, many of whom are African American…”
Oh lord. Another race issue in St. Louis…and secrets and lies? What is this, Twin Peaks?!
“…and they hurt me and kept trying to make me forget who I am. My parents are trying to like, brainwash me and make me forget who I am and what I’m trying to do, and all I want is to get away from them and make all this stop. They’re trying to make me forget things because they’re hiding things from me. Maybe they’re scared because I’m going to have a lot of money from these settlements, but I don’t know. I’ll definitely be calling back. I don’t know when but when I get more information, I’ll call you.”
“Yes, have your lawyers do some investigations and we’ll be happy to help you when you have a little more information.”
I was doing EVERYTHING in my receptionist playbook to try to get her the hell off my phone, because I was really beginning to feel uneasy the longer our conversation continued and the more she kept reiterating she “wasn’t crazy” and just had a “really high IQ.” I felt as though her extreme paranoia was radiating through the wires of our telephones. What if all this was some elaborate ruse? Was she really mentally unstable? At this point, I still am not sure whether she was telling the truth or not. Crazy people don’t realize they’re crazy, you know? Or at least, most don’t. I could tell just from her voice she believed what she was saying and had convinced herself of the story; there was adamant conviction behind her words.
And I sensed that perhaps the help she needed more than anything was someone to LISTEN to her without judgment or interjection. We all so desperately long at times to have our voices heard by another so we can purge ourselves of thoughts and words weighing on our bodies and especially our minds. It can be absolutely maddening when you are speaking and feel as though no one is listening, and while I was uneasy with her confession, I realized this might be the only thing I could do for her: provide an ear and supportive silence. If her stories really WERE true and she was a girl interrupted, she could either be a Lisa or a Susanna. I hoped she was the latter.
My silence must have satiated her for the time being, because she finally said, “I’m sorry for throwing all this at you, but I just feel alone. Thank you for listening to all this. I will get more information and call you back at some point. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I hope you get the answers you need.”
As I finally placed the phone back on the receiver, I wondered aloud, “WHAT just happened?” Could she have been telling the truth? Her story seemed like something out of the Lois Duncan suspense novels I used to read as a teen; you know, Summer of Fear, Stranger With My Face and all that. Or Gillian Flynn’s novels. Or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
She gave me her full name, so I looked her up on Facebook just to see if I could glean any information about who she really is. She’s a beautiful girl, probably around my age, and seems normal-ish in photos. I will probably never know if what she said really happened or if her sanity IS intact, but I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt…because I gave it to R.P. McMurphy and Susanna Kaysen.